The Long Game: Teaching as a Career, Not Just A Job

So, here’s an honest confession:  I’m feeling really burnt out this school year. I’m tired. I’m so tired that it’s 9 o’clock on a Tuesday, I’m having a drink, and I honestly cannot come up with some pretty introduction to this post. After staring at the white screen of my computer for a few minutes, the only thought running through my mind is that I’m really freakin’ tired right now.

There’s a whole host of reasons why this is true. I’ve completely changed my workout schedule, and the hours I put in at the gym have admittedly made it difficult for me to do, well, anything at the end of the day.

Still, I think I’m finally starting to understand what it means to teach as a career, not just as a job.

For the first time, I’m in my third consecutive year (fifth year overall) in the classroom and, frankly, at any job I’ve ever had. This is the first time I’ve stayed at a position this long. I’m a little like the bachelor who has jumped from relationship to relationship and finally decided to stick with someone past the honeymoon phase.

Honestly, that’s what the past two years have felt like– the honeymoon phase. I loved every minute of my job. I was always thinking of ways to try something different and new. Just like in the first few months of a relationship, I was eager to spend all my time focused on impressing my partner(s) and giving them the best.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still eager to give my students my best, and I still love my job. But after two years it’s much easier to become complacent with the routine of your classroom. You’re able to read the room better. You run into similar problems and pitfalls from the years before. Yes, the kids are different and wonderful and marvelous in their own way, but it’s easy to rest on your laurels and continue on your merry way down the path you forged for two years.

Just like any relationship, though, I am fighting stagnancy and complacency as much as I can. I don’t want to end up getting so burnt out and bored doing this work that I forget all the reasons I returned to the classroom in the first place.

Here are a couple of things I am trying to do in order to make sure I stay sharp.

  • I am reflecting on my work as often as I can. My school allows teachers to conduct academic research as part of our workload. This year, I am researching how narrative writing affects identity development, and taking a critical eye to my practice will help me improve it in the future. Caveat: you have to ensure that you actually make time for this. I failed to set aside time at the beginning of the quarter and am having to play catch up now.
  • I am extending my work as much as I am capable. This sounds crazy (and frankly, is a little bit) since teachers are busy enough as it is,  but it also allows me to connect with other educators and, again, consider my own practice.  Beyond writing for EdWeek, I’m still a Hope Street Group Fellow and now working as a community manager for Sevenzo, awesome education incubator. Does this mean less quiet, sitting-around time? Sure, but by putting myself in spaces with innovative and inspired teachers, it helps me make sure I feel that way myself.
  • I am spending less time online. Now, I had mixed feelings about sharing this one, because I think the time I spent in online spaces like EduColor is what helped me return to the classroom and helps me be a better teacher to begin with. That said, I have spent the large majority of my life operating in mostly digital spaces. This is the first year I’ve really felt involved at a more face-to-face level as an educator, and I’ve been trying to be a better friend/partner in the physical world. A lot of my life last year, if I’m honest, revolved around doing a thing for the photo op. Now I’m just… doing it. It is new and, frankly, exhilarating. I still want to return and engage more in the digital space (I miss my people!), but this has been a new avenue of my life to learn to balance in.
  • I am trying to make space for and be kind to myself. This is the hardest one. When you first enter into a relationship, you end up losing yourself in it. You want to spend all your time with it; you every waking moment feels devoted to it. That’s how I felt about teaching when I re-entered the classroom. That’s no way to have a healthy relationship with anyone (or anything), though. I am trying to make sure I still am a person outside my classroom with the fitness and making space for human relationships and the acting. The next one should say, “with the writing,” but I’ve been horribly slow on that front.

 

It admittedly hasn’t been an easy road. Yet as I sit here finishing up this post on a Wednesday morning while my 7th graders do their own freewriting, I am reminded just how blessed I am to be around these kids who consistently make me feel hopeful.

In a world that has been increasingly more frustrating, my students have been the anchor that makes me feel sane. They are a reminder that I am playing the long game– it’s not just about surviving this day but building a relationship with them that hopefully helps them make the world a little less frustrating in the future.

 

The (Un)Value of Loyalty

Recently, my kids and I have been talking a lot about Colin Kaepernick, patriotism, and what it means to be “loyal” to something.

Tomorrow, I am planning on asking them if they think loyalty is an important value. I have no doubt many of them will say yes– we’ve been raised to see “loyalty” as one of the essential “good-human” values. Gryffindors are loyal. Good people are loyal.

And I can appreciate it. I also plan to surprise them with my own belief: I don’t know that I’m sold on the value of “loyalty,” at least not as we so often see it portrayed. That may not be a popular opinion (and, in fact, I imagine I have some of my higher-ups shaking), but let me explain.

While loyalty is defined as a feeling of “allegiance,” I have often found that people assume that loyalty means putting an organization or person above all other things– including personal values.

Sure, loyalty can mean standing with someone in their hour of need, showing forgiveness or the benefit of the doubt, or helping someone out when they ask. Sometimes, though, we use “loyalty” as a tool to manipulate. We are asked to put “loyalty to the party/group/job” over one’s own beliefs. We are called on to do things because we need to show “loyalty.”

And that’s where I draw the lineThere is no organization I would lie for or to. There is no institution that I am so devoted to that I will not call it like I see it.

 

Here’s the thing: I am a firm believer that the way you show love and care is being honest and willing to critically analyze things. A misused culture of “loyalty” doesn’t necessarily lead to a supportive, collaborative environment. Instead, using loyalty as a tool to deflect criticism leads to complacency, power struggle, and a general sense of mistrust: Who is loyal to whom? Who is putting their loyalty to something above honesty? It’s not a very healthy environment to be in. It will quickly isolate people, or make people unwilling to share thoughts and opinions that could make the entire organization better;

So, I personally refuse to operate in a space where I am unable to voice my reasoned dissent. Frankly, I understand that the ability to willingly dissent based on my morals is tied to my privilege. I know that I have the socioeconomic and educational privilege to call out problems and handle myself financially if there were unfortunate or unjust ramifications from that.

Not everyone has that. Not everyone can afford to lose their job or take a pay cut or deal with what other consequences those in power like to dole out when it’s threatened. I am incredibly privileged in my ability to do so, so it would be a misuse of my privilege if I did not use it to stand with those who shared my values but could not speak up. If I don’t use my platform and the power to take a stand, then who else will?

So, if loyalty isn’t the answer, what is?

Personally, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to create cultures of belonging and trust. I attended a session on facilitating difficult conversations and building community with the amazing Ann Delehant. She shared the idea that trust is at the center of being both trustworthy and trusting. It means that not only must we be willing to be transparent and honest, but we also must be willing to trust that other people will do the same. 

While I’m not sold on the value of blind loyalty,am all for creating communities of belonging and trust. For me, that means being honest and upfront about intent, transparent about actions and mistakes, and willing to give and accept feedback to improve the overall group.

It also means coming to the table ready to listen and find solutions instead of pointing fingers and making accusations. Trust can’t be built when the person across the table already assumes that you’re lying. We can’t create

We can’t create collaborative, growing spaces if we all assume that anyone else  is against us. Trust can only happen if there’s a mutual agreement that we all want the same outcome, even if we might disagree on the “how.” If one side is being dishonest about intent or refuses to dialogue with the other, how can we move forward?

With all that, here are my cards (career wise, anyway) laid out on the table: At the end of the day, I am here to support my students. I am willing to show support, put work in, and rally behind things that I truly believe will help my kids, their communities, and the greater good of public education. If I’m asked to do something that helps those causes and doesn’t compromise my values, great! If not, then I’m not here for it and I’m not afraid to say so.

My students and the work we do in the classroom together are, ultimately at my center. To sell them or myself out would be to dishonor all the people in my life who worked hard to give me the opportunities that got me here. It would dishonor the students and families that trust me every day.

At the end of the day, all I can ask is that I did my best to be true to myself. If the answer is yes, I know I can look myself in the mirror the next day and try and teach my kids the same thing.

Intersecting Stories

There are two stories I want to tell you.

The first isn’t really a single story, but a collection of them. It’s from the first three days of my classroom, and of being in the fifth-year of my teaching.

There’s the story I want to tell you about what it felt like to hit my stride. There is a moment where body, spirit, and mind connect and there’s a momentary, explosive bloom, like watching stars explode in space— it’s not violent, but graceful.

I turned towards my students on a too-warm August morning this Monday, started talking with them and thought, Oh, this is it. This is what I’m meant to do. My chest opened and the tension of uncertainty that summer brought melted away. This is it.

There are the students, who are already making me laugh harder than I have in weeks, whose stories are already burning so brilliantly inside them that I see sparks of them a few days in. It is the pop-crack of first flame at the campfire; it is the first rumbles of thunder in the storm waiting to break for hours. It is wild and unfettered.

It is perfect.


There’s another story I could tell you.

It’s about the fact that Panic is a sneaky bitch.

I think I’ve outrun him— taken every self-care precaution, immersed myself in joyful work— or kept him at bay. I’m so sure that I can sense his arrival, I let my guard down. Oh, I know he’ll show up, but I figure I’ll hear his footsteps down the hall, see the flashes of his fingers at the corners of my mind.

So, when Panic hits on King St. late on a weekday night, on a day where, for all intents and purposes, things are fine, it’s a little jarring. Panic does all the normal things he does— squeezes my chest; makes me cry; reaches down my throat and plays my vocal chords like a harp so I make squeaky, whimpering animal noises while I try to keep him at bay. I grip the steering wheel hard and grit my teeth, trying to ride the wave of his terror out, playing the scared bystander-under-desk to his Godzilla-rage.

I finally make it home and sob in my car harder than I have in months. There is no reason to it. The detailed inventory of my life is, at least, joyful. You’re fine. You’re fine, I think to myself, desperate to use that as an anchor to some kind of rational-self.

There is no logic to it, though.  There is just loud, unabashed wailing, each cry letting some of Panic’s power out of my system. I let myself weep in hopes that the more I let this wild rumpus continue, the longer I will be free from it.

The two stories seem juxtaposing, but they are not parallel universes. They intersect within me. They are consistently warring, forcing me to walk a tight-rope, a knife’s-edge worth of stable ground amidst two worlds that, if I am not careful, could swallow me whole.

Hitting the Wall and Moving Forward

Many thanks to Doug Robertson and CUE for letting write a little about how running a marathon is a little like teaching.

We all know the moment: you are moving your way along a trail— real or proverbial— and all of a sudden, the thought pops into your head:

“I don’t want to do this anymore. I would like to stop now, please.”

And with that, your body hits what runners know as “The Wall”: your legs get heavy, your shoulders hunch down, your chest feels like it’s weighed down with a bag of lead. Your entire being is telling you to give up, to stop whatever you’re doing, and surrender to failure.

Teaching has Walls too. I hit one in my first year of teaching- in October of 2012. The Wall was called DEVOLSON, otherwise known as “The Disillusionment Stage.” To be fair, I didn’t set myself up for success: instead of starting the year off with a plan, I assumed I’d be able to coast by on charisma and good execution.

Boy, was I wrong.

Read more here.

Head Above Water: On Self-Care

Side note: I wrote a piece about meeting with my students re: recent events over at EdWeek that, for me, is a companion to this.


“They identified the shooter in Dallas last night,” I am on my phone, wrapped in bedsheets, reading the news to my boyfriend, Chase, as he gets ready for work. My thumb brushes page after page upwards, the blue glow wrapping around my face in the early morning light. I scroll quickly, almost compulsively, through information.

“Oh, yeah? Did they catch him?”

“No,” I reply quickly, eyes still glued to the screen. “They killed him in a standoff.”

We talk a little more about the shootings. All the news this week– the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and now the execution of Dallas cops who were doing their job with care— leaves me with a pit in my stomach. My heart races as I read accounts, hear gunshots in videos, see images that stay behind my eyes longer than I’d like. The weight of it all can envelop me, wrapping me in gray and following me for the day.

Chase leans over me on the bed, takes his hand to the side of my face, and strokes my hair. The act makes me tear my eyes away from the screen and look up at him, handsome in his Navy uniform though he hates when I say it. I catch my breath. I have not yet told him, but feeling his hand there– fingers intertwined in my hair, palm heavy on my temple– is one of my favorite things.

He searches my eyes for a moment, before kissing me lightly. “Don’t read the news today,” he entreats softly. He kisses me again, nips my bottom lip. He is clean and Listerine-mint to my sour morning breath and tousled hair. “It makes you sad.”

My gut instinct, the twenty-one-year-old wanna-be activista, balks. Ignorance and silence are compliance, a voice in the base of my brain quickly beats back.

I know he is advocating for neither, though. He simply doesn’t want to come home and find me there still, wrapped in bedsheets and paralyzed by my own personal melancholy. I look up and give a slight nod. “Okay.”


I thought about that this morning when my department chair, Marybeth, sent me an email asking for resources not just for our students, but for herself. She noted that engaging with the news is frankly overwhelming when she is also taking care of two young children at home and, you know, being an excellent teacher and mentor.

Once you “go down the rabbit hole,” she explained, it can feel impossible to get out. “I can’t let that happen since I need to be able to care for my kids. But I decided… I need to allow my students to think and converse about this since, otherwise, I am still part of the problem.”

The email hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew exactly what it was to go down the rabbit hole. I knew what it was like to get lost in its darkness, like there was no bottom,  like there is just falling into greater depths of our own helplessness. I knew the hours I had spent reading, listening, wondering, feeling helpless.

Of course, we’d be mistaken to not see our own privilege: I am not Black. I don’t live in a highly segregated city (arguably I experience as close to the opposite as exists in the U.S.). While I have certainly experienced racism, my experience can’t compare to what other people have seen last night and for generations.

I write a lot about being up front with students. After Orlando, after Mizzou, when the system failed to indict. Even just this morning, I wrote that we must talk about it.

I still stand by this, but I want to make it clear that none of us, myself included, are built to handle seeing trauma 24/7/365. Processing trauma is not an Olympic sport. There is no correct form for it. Simply because I know that many people have it worse doesn’t mean I beat up anyone who decides to take a break to care for themselves. I am getting better at trying to include myself in that.


It’s a weird thing, sometimes, sharing piecemeal on this site, in my other writing, on various social media platforms. Like anyone else, I suppose, I only share the parts of myself that I’m willing to– because they make me happy, or they feel important (and safe) to share. As a writer (who even sometimes gets paid to write), I also admittedly think about my audience, what will be interesting, or what people will actually care about.

Yes, I am the girl at the top of the story with the handsome boyfriend who reminded me to take care of myself. It’s a sweet story with a nice ending.  I also watched him close the door, and had a lightening-flash of worry. What if something happens to him at work?

Then, I buried my face in my hands for five minutes and cried, still wrapped in bedsheets. I cried because I was sad that I had thought that. I cried because I was still terrified that it could happen. I cried because there are people who fear much worse every day.

I’m a huge advocate for being vulnerable and upfront as often as possible. Still, please  don’t think for a second that I don’t have parts of myself that are hidden and scared. I hope I never paint a picture that I am not terrified at times, that I have no idea how I will discuss this with students or, one day, my own children. There are days where I worry that I simply will be unable to.

There are days when I can’t stop crying, and there are days where I close my computer and decide, “that’s enough.” It is a privilege to be able to shut it down, I know.

I also know, though, that if I don’t, my ability to also be the girl who sits in the diner and hears her students talk about these topics, or encourages them to write about it, or tries to elevate their voices when they raise them, can get washed away in tears.

Those are the days that I don’t always write about, but those moments of quiet self-care, of seeking out light in the darkness, that are just as essential.

Everyone Deserves to feel Limitless

 

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I’ve written before about “limitless potential,” and how running gave me that power.

I don’t know that I’ve always written about the people who helped truly get me there.

SRLAThe first time I ever ran more than a mile, it was with my students.

We didn’t have a field. We ran laps around our school in preparation for the LA Marathon. My body rejected every single step and, after the first mile, all I wanted to do was quit. Who do you think you are? my mind screamed. You’re not built for this.

Then, I heard screams from the balcony of our building. “Go Ms. T! You can do this!” I looked up and saw a handful of students smiling and waving at us as we ran along. I was a new teacher at the school, and we were only a few months in, so I was surprised they knew me.

I couldn’t help but laugh, wave back, and start running again. I wanted them to see me keep trying. I wanted them to know they made me want to keep trying, because of how hard they worked. I wanted to keep going because I wanted to make them proud, the way they made me proud.


DONATE HERE
Now, 7 years later, I have the chance to help another group of students. I love running, now, because it makes me feel limitless and without potential.

So many of our students have this same potential, but aren’t given the access or resources they need to thrive the way so many other do. So many of our students are taught, early on, that their potential is tied to where they grew up or the community they come from. Their histories are painted as a false anchor instead of a bright sail to push them forward.

Our students deserve better. Hoku Scholars tries to give them those tools. Every step I take for this race, I hope to help give more students the same limitless possibilities I feel when I run.

I hope you’re able to help on this journey. Every little bit counts.

 

‘Often Imitated, Never Duplicated’: Black Womaness in the Classroom

This piece originally appeared in EdWeek.

This month, I’ll be featuring the voices of female educators in honor of Women’s History Month. More written about this is here.

Guest post by Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price.


“Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Ms. Aryee-Price, you’re not going to believe this. I’m writing an essay that was assigned to the 8th graders!”

You see, that’s Aida. A seventh grade, Afro-Latina student of Dominican descent whose thirst for knowledge reminds me of myself at her age. She gives me life within an oppressive system I find myself having to navigate and negotiate every day.

As a Black woman teacher who is also a numerical minority in my district, I often feel like a sea otter in a bed of sharks that are waiting to attack and devour me at any given moment. Making the wrong move, uttering the wrong sounds will cost me my life. That’s real. My Blackness and womanness intersect in ways that I cannot escape, so survival becomes the ultimate goal. My students are my survival.

I grinned; her enthusiasm for school gives me a unique kind of energy that keeps me coming each day.

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In a classroom discussion about The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton and the protagonist, Ponyboy’s obsession with Gone with the Wind, I encouraged students to critique this problematic story of the Old South. Aida’s constant questioning and wondering led us into a brief exchange.

“Next year,” I shared, “you all will read To Kill a Mockingbird, a text that explicitly tackles racism, power, privilege, and what justice looks like for some…”  She was intrigued.

I could see the wheels spinning in Aida’s head. In the only way that she could express, she blurted out, “I’m going to read that book.” And she did.

My hope is in the children I teach each day. Our language arts classroom discussions center their lives, their stories, and the experiences of people who look like them. It is important they get to see themselves represented in the classroom. It is important they get to see humanity in its fullest form and what happens when an oppressive system attempts to dampen their hopes and desires. And it is equally as important for them to see when people like them fight this oppressive system: win, lose, or draw.

 So when Aida told me that she did not pass language arts class last year, I questioned how that could happen. What went wrong? Did our system fail this child? How can a system that is not intentional about educating students of color, predominantly Black and Latino, succeed? Having a colorblind approach to teaching our students not only invalidates their lives but discourages them from seeing the divine and magic within themselves. As a Black woman who teaches mostly Black and Brown students, and as one who approaches the classroom from an anti-racist and social justice lens, it is imperative that my students see the divine in themselves. That’s their survival.

Unfortunately for many of us, we are born into this white heteropatriarchal society. It’s an oppressive society that we have all inherited, so anything counter to that reality runs the risk of being silenced, isolated, and defeated.

And because we were all born into this unjust system, we cannot escape it’s oppressive ways unless we actively and collectively work to disrupt it. As women, we internalize this oppression, and see it manifested and perpetuated in various forms between our daily interactions with each other. But as a Black woman in this system, I need to go into work fully armored.

So yes, I will be punished more harshly than my white male counterparts, and even more severely than my white female counterparts. No “bad days” because that courtesy is rarely, if ever, extended to me. There is no room for me to mess up. No do-overs, even though others may be allowed that courtesy.

Therefore, I stride into my classroom knowing that the world is going to be unforgiving to my students. So I forgive them endlessly. Yup, seventy times seven, I forgive each of them. I walk into my classroom knowing that the world has very little love for them. I shower them with love. I strut into that classroom knowing compassion sees them not. So compassion and empathy are the center of the approach I take with them.

I remember the very first comment Aida made to me when she introduced herself, “Language Arts is my worst class, Miss. And I don’t know how to write well. I just want to let you know that.” I smiled because I saw something much more brilliant in her than she thought I did.

Now, Aida has not only proven her ability to write well, but one of the other eighth grade teachers has collaborated with me by allowing Aida to sit in on her class discussions of To Kill a Mockingbird and to complete the work assigned to the eighth graders. If only you could see the pride on her face.

We sat over lunch last week to discuss the book. I remember sitting there, deep in conversation and seeing the determination in a child who needed to see herself represented in her classes. She needed others to see and know her brilliance. Aida knew it; the rest of us were slow to the party.

I am consciously aware that my Black womanness informs my teaching and my approach to engaging the learners in my classroom. My Black womanness is acutely conscious of the ways in which oppression intersects in my daily life, in and out of work, and the lives of my students. And that knowledge and awareness cannot be duplicated or experienced by those who do not share in this.

It is because of my experience as a Black woman that I commit to justice within and outside the walls of my classroom. This is not to say that white teachers cannot do this work; they must. There just needs to be more intentionality when approaching the classroom. It must be free of paternalism, and full of self reflection, equity-driven, justice-driven anti-racism education.

I spent most of my years in public schools in the United States without having one Black teacher until my senior year of high school. I was desperate to see someone who had a similar experience as a Black woman, so I took accounting, a subject I hated, only because I wanted to experience having Ms. Holloway.

I envied the students who had Ms. Mack as a teacher, or Ms. Bolden as a guidance counselor. Those students appeared to be seen, heard, encouraged and loved so much more. I longed for that in school. As a teenager, I immediately recognized their value and power and wanted to be that for my students. Hence, it should come as no surprise to me that my students understand the value I hold for them, even if others pretend they do not know. But in the words of Fabulous, we’re “often imitated, but never duplicated.

Image via Flickr.


Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price is a grade 7 Language Arts teacher, a part-time Organizational Development Consultant with the NJEA, and a member of EduColor. As a partner and mom of two, Okaikor still finds time to do the work she truly loves: community and teacher organizing that centers anti-racist principles and social justice.

When Higher Ed Means Going Through Hell

This post originally ran in Education Week.


 

 This month, I’ll be featuring the voices of female educators in honor of Women’s History Month. More written about this is here.

Guest post by Sydney Brady.


“Take martial arts,” my mom says, “or you’re probably going to die in college.” While this is obviously hyperbole on a very inappropriate level, it is true on so many others.

What are the statistics we, as high school seniors, look at when we apply to colleges? Acceptance rate, rejection rate, graduation rate… and date rape? While there’s a 14% chance I’ll get accepted into the school of my dreams, there’s a 25% chance I’ll be raped or sexually assaulted while I am there.

And isn’t that horrifying?

On Pinterest, the college survival kits for girls recommend not only cute pens and notebooks but also Mace to, at most, frighten off my inevitable attacker.

When you enter “how to prevent college rape” into the Google search bar, the third article that pops up is from The New York Times. It says that the risk of rape was lowered in colleges when females took a class on how to protect themselves from potential attackers. But measures like these only allow women to be reactive once a sketchy situation occurs. These techniques fail at one key aspect: they don’t teach men to be proactive and not rape in the first place.

And isn’t that horrifying?

I read a draft of this speech to my mom and asked her if it sounded good. She replied with a grimace, saying, “It’s horrifying… but true.”

And isn’t that horrifying?

The woman who has raised me for 16 years has come to accept the fact that for me to advance my education, I will have to go through hell. My mother has accepted that the pearls on the gates to my dream school only bedazzle an iron frame that locks me into a one-in-four statistic.

Shouldn’t I have the right to walk through campus, free from gripping my bag a little tighter when I leave the library at night, free from being scared of footsteps behind me, free from having worry about screaming, and Mace-ing, and rape-whistling? But the reality is that I won’t be free.

And isn’t that horrifying?

So while I will protest martial arts, as I hate them and am uncoordinated, I will reluctantly go. After all, statistics show that I may be gearing up to enter the most traumatic experience of my life.

And isn’t that horrifying?

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Sydney B. is a junior at Kauai High School. She is a diehard fan of J.K. Rowling, and a self-proclaimed master of Harry Potter trivia. When she’s not in school, she can be found running at the track or feeding her fish slices of cucumber.

 

 

I, Woman, Teacher.

This post originally appeared in Education Week.


 

This week marks the beginning of Women’s History Month. I am interested in hearing from other female teachers about how their gender identity affects their practice in the classroom. Please contact me if you’d like to share some of your thoughts.



IMG_8494.JPGWhat does it mean to be a woman in education?
I asked myself on a run this morning. For all my discussion about “identity,” I realize that I have actually done very little reflection about my gender identity as a teacher. I deconstruct it occasionally in my personal life, but I haven’t really thought about what it means as an educator.

I think it’s important to remember with this month, as with all months devoted to a group of people, that simply because it’s “[_____] History Month” doesn’t mean that the conversation is only about the past. It is important to know not only where we come from, but also consider how this aspect of our identity influences the present spaces we are in with our students.

Here’s the thing I realized: I know that being a woman in education (where I am in the majority, which also has interesting implications), is important and affects the way I interact with my students and my work. I just have no. idea. how.

I am eager to keep reflecting and hopefully hearing other’s thoughts on the subject. All I have right now are a few moments from over the school year.


“WOO-woo!” A sharp, high whistle pierces the air. My students and I all instinctively turned towards the street and watch the truck slowly stop twenty feet ahead of us at a stoplight.

Back on the field, a few girls and I roll our eyes instinctively. I am surrounded by my fifteen upper-classmen drama students, and we are stretching on a field bordered by a busy street. While the whistle doesn’t surprise me, it does fill my stomach with a white-hot rage. It’s frustrating enough when I am whistled at on a street while running or merely trying to get from point A to point B. It is infuriating that someone felt it was their right to harass my underage female students.

I look back at them, then back at the truck. “Was that the car that did it?” I ask, knowing the answer– the window is still open, a man’s arm hanging out with a sly face occasionally peeking back and laughing, as though he is daring me to say something. My girls nod.

I look back at them, think for a moment, then begin moving towards the car. I briefly turn to my students and lob my room keys at one of them. “Go back to the classroom. I’m going to go have a talk with them.” The kids cheer briefly as I run over, before heading upstairs.


“I just…” she trails off. One of my ninth-graders sits above my desk on a stool, reading her paper rough draft to herself. In a paper about love, she has revealed an emotionally abusive relationship she was in. She wants to finish the paper by writing about how she learned to love herself.

“I just… I don’t know how to write about myself. I feel weird talking about what being strong feels like,” she finally finishes.

I take a second, understanding her sentiment completely. “Why do you think it’s hard?” I ask.

“It… feels weird,” she shakes her head.

“I think a lot of times we as women are told not to write about ourselves or what we like about ourselves,” I offer. “Because, you know… the patriarchy.”

She smiles. We have often talked about “the patriarchy.”

“I think writing about yourself can fight against that,” I continue. I look at my own computer, full of open drafts that I, too have abandoned because they felt “weird.” I look back at her, “Maybe writing about ourselves can be a radical act.”

She thinks about it, then nods her head.


“Ms. Torres, do you ever wear make-up?” A student asks me towards the beginning of the year. With the exception of the first day (where I wore slacks, a button-up, and a bow-tie), I rarely go beyond combing my hair and throwing on a pair of baggy jeans before school.

My regular day-to-day wear consists of ripped jeans and UFC gym attire. I often mention to my students that I am headed to an MMA class or off for a run or to lift weights.

All of this is with purpose. At some point, I began to see traditional, stereotyped forms of femininity as weak– or, at least, as vulnerable. To be feminine and pretty meant to conform to societal norms that seemingly put me in a place of oppression.

So, I gave up those things. I rarely wore makeup. I no longer danced Salsa. Instead, I ran and punched. I decided to see how much I could lift or how fast I could run. I tried to subvert the patriarchy by showing I could mimic its forms.

I look at my student and laugh. “No, not unless I have to,” I said. Then, in a mock-conspirator’s whisper, I say “I’m a bit too busy to worry about stuff like that.”

The student laughs, and I do too. Then I catch the gaze of another female student. She is often well-dressed and wearing make-up. I don’t know if she has heard me, but I can’t help but wonder how she would feel about my comment. Would I have embarrassed her? Shamed her? Angered her?


Now, I am forced to hold up a mirror to my own ideas of femininity, power, and vulnerability. It took years to let go of the idea that my identity as a woman was tied to dressing and looking a particular way. If I am trying to subvert the patriarchy then I would hate to be complicit in the myth that femininity is somehow weak.

I am challenging myself to stand in that mirror and love the feminine, “girly” side of me as much as the one that runs marathons and talks sports with my students. I worry that to do anything less would send a detrimental and subtly misogynistic message to my students. Instead, I want to reclaim that aspect of identity as anything but weak, and see it for its full worth as wonderfully and beautifully powerful.